Sensational Samba targets success with Nepal on first visit to Saudi Arabia

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Updated 15 February 2024
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Sensational Samba targets success with Nepal on first visit to Saudi Arabia

  • Kingdom set to host 8th edition of WAFF Women’s Championship from Feb. 18-28

Kathmandu: As Saudi Arabia prepares to host the eighth edition of the West Asian Football Federation Women’s Championship, many eyes will be on Nepalese forward Sabitra Bhandari.

Widely known as Samba in football circles, the prolific 27-year-old striker is aiming to make a mark on her first ever visit to the Kingdom.

Still fresh from her debut with EA Guingamp in France’s Division 1 Feminine, she will be joining the Nepal squad in the tournament taking place in Jeddah from Feb. 18 to 28.

Guest teams Nepal and Guam will join the tournament with Saudi Arabia as first timers, while Jordan, the five-time champion, will be hoping to secure their crown. Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria are on the hunt for their first title.

Saudi Arabia has become a destination for footballers around the globe in recent times. While world-class players in men’s football have flocked to the Saudi Pro League, West Asia’s top women’s teams will have a chance to shine at the WAFF competition.

The tournament is expected to help clubs of recently formed Saudi Women’s Premier League to find new talents.

Samba is excited to visit Saudi Arabia after hearing about the football stories in the media.

She said: “This will be my first visit to Saudi Arabia. We have heard a lot about Saudi being a hub for world-class footballers. Cristiano Ronaldo, who I have been following since my childhood, is also in Asia. The women’s league has also begun there, which is a fantastic opportunity for players of our region.”

Samba is a household name in South Asian football. Nepal’s top goal scorer in international football won numerous league titles in her home country and in India before landing in France after a short stint in Israel with Hapoel Ra’anana.

But her early years were a struggle.

As a youngster, she played with the boys in the rural village of Lamjung, Simpani. A referee who was impressed with her game advised her to visit the capital city Kathmandu.

After a successful trial, Samba signed for Nepal APF Club, and the rest as they say is history.

Samba soon made her debut for the national team in 2014, aged just 18, and scored on her debut. Since then, she has scored 43 goals in 42 matches for Nepal.

After winning multiple league championships with APF in Nepal, she attracted interest from Indian clubs. In India’s top division she won three league titles and two golden boots playing for Sethu and Gokulam Kerala.

Her impressive performance in the Indian league caught the eye of scouts which paved the way for her move to Israel.

Samba continued her rich scoring form there before the war cut short her stint. She scored five goals in two matches for Ra’anana before the league halted. Samba also had a goal and assist in two cup matches. A deal with EA Guingamp saw her on the way to France.

She now has her focus on the Nepalese team and the WAFF tournament.

“I am away in France, but the team has been preparing well. I have played with the team for a long time now and it will not be hard to gel in. We are coming to Saudi with hope to win the tournament,” she added.

Rajendra Tamang, the head coach of the Nepali national team, has pinned the team’s goal-scoring hopes on Samba.

He said: “She is very important for our team. Even though there are other forwards in the team, we are reliant on goal scoring with her. She knows the team well and we look forward to having her in the team.”

Tamang noted that Bhandari was an icon in South Asian football and an inspiration to her peers too.

“For a Nepali player to play for a top European league is a dream come true. This is a story to learn not just for Nepal but the whole of South Asia. We are lucky that she plays for our nation. She is an inspiration for the sport here,” he added.

Women’s football has been breaking barriers around the world in recent years and Samba feels only good things are to follow.

She said: “If you see the state of women’s football in past few years, there is a lot of positives around. I hope we can keep up with the similar pace.

“As tournaments and leagues expand, that will provide more opportunities for players and help in development of the game too,” she added.


Juventus ordered to pay Ronaldo $10.4 million in back salary

Cristiano Ronaldo was the world’s highest-paid sportsman in 2023. AFP
Updated 18 April 2024
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Juventus ordered to pay Ronaldo $10.4 million in back salary

  • The five-time Ballon d’Or winner was the world’s highest-paid sportsman in 2023, with $136 million, including $46 million in wages

Rome: Juventus must pay Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo 9.7 million euros ($10.4 million) in back wages for the 2020-21 season, the Italian courts announced on Wednesday.
The Court of Arbitration, to which Ronaldo appealed, “orders Juventus Turin to pay the sum of 9,774,166.66 euros,” plus interest and procedural costs, it stated in its decision.
The sum equates to the difference between the salary actually received by Ronaldo and that which he should have received after tax and other deductions.
Ronaldo, who spent three seasons in Italy with Juventus (2018-21) before joining Manchester United (2021-22) and then the Saudi club Al Nassr, was claiming 19.5 million euros but the arbitration panel reduced that by 50 percent.
Contacted by AFP, Juventus declined to comment, but said it would be issuing a statement “shortly.”
According to the rankings drawn up by the American business magazine Forbes, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner was the world’s highest-paid sportsman in 2023, with $136 million, including $46 million in wages.
Juventus, who are listed on the stock exchange, recorded losses of 123.7 million euros in the 2022-23 financial year, which ran to the end of June, it announced in October.
No provision has been made in the accounts of Italian football’s most successful club, currently third in Serie A, for the payment of this wages backlog.


Marketing as much behind expansion of Asia Cup as merit

Updated 18 April 2024
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Marketing as much behind expansion of Asia Cup as merit

  • Non-cricket fans may struggle to comprehend the links between the Asia Challenger Cup, the Asia Premier League and the Asia Cup

MUSCAT: Even to cricket aficionados — sometimes referred to as badgers — the various ways teams can qualify for the world’s major tournaments might appear opaque.

As may the term “badger”. Badgers are known for their tenacity, focus and persistence, qualities which can apply to those who dedicate chunks of their life to the game, its history, statistics, spectating, discussion and administration. This is not a complete list, but it provides a flavor.

A test case for tournament opaqueness is the Asia Cup. Non-badgers can be forgiven if they fail to comprehend the links between the Asia Challenger Cup, the Asia Premier League and the Asia Cup. They all fall under the aegis of the Asia Cricket Council and their existence represents an attempt by the organization to provide a more coherent regime for qualification into the big event — without using the word “qualification.”

The situation was much simpler in 1983, when the ACC was founded with the aim of promoting goodwill between Asian countries. In 1984, the first edition of the Asia Cup was held in Sharjah, where the ACC was based. It was One Day International in format and India won, but then boycotted the 1986 event because of strained relations with Sri Lanka. Strained political relations with India caused Pakistan to boycott it in 1991 event, whilst the 1993 cup was cancelled for the same reasons. Sadly, the ACC’s original aim was sorely tested almost from the outset.

Subsequent tournaments did not fit any regular temporal pattern. It was not until 2009 that the tournament was regularized onto a biennial basis. In 2015, the ACC announced the tournament would be played on rotation between ODI and Twenty20 International formats. Despite the introduction of a group stage to allow a slight expansion in the number of teams, the tournament has normally had only six competitors.

The International Cricket Council’s decision in April 2018 to grant T20I status to all 104 member nations – both men’s and women’s teams - has had far-reaching effects on cricket, including the Asia Cup. The number of countries with teams playing formalized T20 cricket at international level has grown rapidly.

It could be argued that the decision democratized cricket for both men and women. The 50-over ODI format requires a longer commitment and a deeper allocation of resources beyond the means of many of the boards administering cricket. T20 cricket offered a quicker, less resource-intensive route for the teams of associate member countries to test themselves not only amongst their peers, but also against the full members on the pitch. It has become a format for the many, not the few.

However, there remains a huge gulf between funds available to associate members and full members. This situation is exacerbated by the ICC’s decision-making regime which allows very little representation for associates. In the latest, 161st edition of the Wisden Almanack, its editor berates last year’s decision to increase the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s share of ICC’s central funds from 25 to 38.5 percent. It is not as if it needs the funds.

The BCCI argues that, since it brings the lion’s share of revenue into the game, it should be proportionately rewarded. This argument suggests a desire to control other members rather than encourage their development. Wisden’s editor asks: “Is it really beyond the wit of the administrators to distribute cash according to need, not greed?” By way of example, the West Indies cricket board receives just under 5 percent of ICC central funds. No wonder its premier players frequent the game’s franchise leagues.

The views of Wisden’s editor will probably be regarded in cricket’s power circles as a rage against the dying of the light for a previous regime, governed from England. Whilst it is true that regime was as concerned with its own protection as the current one, its idea of spreading the game was somewhat parochial. It is in that context that the ICC’s mission to spread the game should be seen. Now, cricket is not only played internationally in countries which raise the eyebrows of many when the name is mentioned, it is also accompanied by grass roots growth.

Given the recognized closeness between the ICC and the BCCI, whose secretary is also president of the ACC, the motives for restructuring the Asia Cup are worth exploring. If it is accepted that T20I cricket has the potential to provide a more level playing field, at least in terms of recognition of performance to a global standard, then the competitive structures should encourage meritocracy. This does lead to criticism that the breaking of records by associate players dilutes those set by full member players. There was such an example in Oman this week when Nepal’s Dipendra Singh Airee hit six sixes in an over, no mean feat in any standard of cricket.

This achievement will have set off the cricket badgers. One remarkable coincidence is that the umpire at the bowler’s end had also stood on another occasion when six sixes had been struck in an over. The badgers should also reflect on the possibility that the Asia Cup structure made this possible. At the base of the three-tier structure is the Asia Challenger Cup, from which two teams progress to the second tier, the Premier Cup. The winner of that is elevated to the Asia Cup with the full members. The pathway provides every ACC member with a chance to strive for this nirvana.

Yet the structure is not just about merit, it is also about commercial opportunity. Three stand-alone competitions offer the opportunity, it is argued, for each to be marketed separately, thus increasing their commercial potential. The most visible sponsorship at both the Challenger and Premier Cups has been by DafaNews and 1XBet, plus FanCode. This is sponsorship of a highly specific, and in some eyes potentially contentious, nature. Badgers may need to be tenacious in rooting out the relationship between the new Asia Cup structure and its sponsors.

 


Kuwait fall to Vietnam in 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup

Updated 18 April 2024
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Kuwait fall to Vietnam in 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup

  • Uzbekistan beat Malaysia 2-0 in the same group as the first round of matches concludes

DOHA: Vietnam defeated Kuwait 3-1 in the 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup as Group D games got underway in Qatar on Wednesday night.

The result meant Vietnam took the early lead in the fourth and final group of the 16-team tournament, with Uzbekistan, who beat Malaysia 2-0, sitting second in the table on goal difference. Kuwait and Malaysia, with zero points, are third and fourth respectively. 

The second round of matches kick off in Group A on Thursday (April 18), with hosts Qatar taking on Jordan and Indonesia facing Australia.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia will return to action against Thailand on Friday before facing Iraq in their final Group C match on Monday (April 22).

The 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup sees 16 nations split into four groups of four teams, with the top two from each progressing to the quarterfinals. The competition also serves as a route to the Olympic Games in Paris this summer, with the winners of the two semifinals both securing automatic qualification.

The two losing semifinalists will contest third place, with the winners also booking a place in Paris, while the fourth-place finishers have a final chance with a play-off against an African qualifier.


Pakistan kick off T20 World Cup 2024 preparations with New Zealand series today

Updated 18 April 2024
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Pakistan kick off T20 World Cup 2024 preparations with New Zealand series today

  • Today’s match to see return of Mohammad Amir, Imad Wasim and Naseem Shah to Pakistan’s national squad
  • Pakistan’s white-ball captain Babar Azam says team eager to express themselves as a unit in today’s match 

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan cricket team will kick off their preparations for the ICC World Cup 2024 by taking on New Zealand in the first match of the T20I series against the Black Caps in Rawalpindi today, Thursday. 

Led by experienced all-rounder Michael Bracewell, New Zealand’s cricket team arrived in Pakistan last week to play the five-match T20I series from April 14-28. Rawalpindi will also host matches on Saturday and Sunday, while Lahore’s Qaddafi Stadium will be the stage for the remaining two matches next week on Thursday and Saturday.

This will be the third five-match series between the two sides inside a 12-month period. Last year, Pakistan and New Zealand drew the series at two-all in Pakistan, while New Zealand clinched the series 4-1 earlier at their home. 

“This five-match T20I series holds a lot of importance for us as we look forward to preparing for the all-important mega-event,” Pakistan’s white-ball captain Babar Azam said during a news conference on Wednesday. 

“We had a great fitness camp in Kakul and are looking forward to express ourselves as a unit.”

Pakistan have named uncapped Abrar Ahmed, Mohammad Irfan Khan and Usman Khan in the 17-player squad. Pacer Mohammad Amir and all-rounder Imad Wasim, who came back from retirement last month. are also back in the national squad. 

The series will also mark fast bowler Naseem Shah’s return to the national squad, who last played for Pakistan in Asia Cup 2023 before suffering a shoulder injury. The injury proved to be a fatal blow for Pakistan, sidelining Shah from the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 and tours of Australia and New Zealand.

Bracewell said he was excited to lead New Zealand on the Pakistan tour, adding that his team was raring to play good cricket against the hosts.

“Pakistan are formidable side at home and we’ll look to put challenges in their backyard,” he said. 

The match is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. Pakistan Standard Time. 

Squads:

Pakistan — Babar Azam (captain), Abrar Ahmed, Azam Khan, Fakhar Zaman, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Abbas Afridi, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Amir, Muhammad Irfan Khan, Naseem Shah, Saim Ayub, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Usama Mir, Usman Khan and Zaman Khan

New Zealand — Michael Bracewell (captain), Tom Blundell, Mark Chapman, Josh Clarkson, Jacob Duffy, Dean Foxcroft, Ben Lister, Cole McConchie, Jimmy Neesham, Will O’Rourke, Tim Robinson, Ben Sears, Tim Seifert, Ish Sodhi and Zak Foulkes.


Nadal loses to De Minaur in second round at Barcelona

Updated 18 April 2024
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Nadal loses to De Minaur in second round at Barcelona

  • Nadal again looked injury-free on Wednesday but was never in control against the in-form De Minaur, who picked up his second career win over Nadal
  • Roberto Bautista Agut rallied to defeat Andrea Vavassori 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 to earn his 400th tour-level victory

BARCELONA, Spain: Rafael Nadal’s first tournament since January lasted only two matches with the Spaniard losing 7-5, 6-1 to Alex de Minaur at the clay-court Barcelona Open on Wednesday.

Nadal, back from an injury layoff, looked like his old self for brief moments in the second-round match but couldn’t keep up with the 11th-ranked De Minaur.

“The moment I lost the first set, the match was over,” Nadal said. “I can’t play a three-hour match right now. This wasn’t the place for me to give everything I have. We’ll see what happens in Paris. I want to be competitive there, that’s where I have to give it all.”

Nadal is a 14-time winner at the French Open, which begins next month. He said he will try to play at the Madrid Open next week but didn’t fully commit.

“I didn’t want to take any risks,” Nadal said. “The important thing here was to play and I played. To be on the court is great news.”

The 22-time Grand Slam champion had comfortably defeated 62nd-ranked Flavio Cobolli in straight sets in the first round on Tuesday in what was his first competitive match in more than three months.

Nadal again looked injury-free on Wednesday but was never in control against the in-form De Minaur, who picked up his second career win over Nadal.

It was only his fifth defeat at the Barcelona Open, a tournament he has won a record 12 times.

“It’s natural that this was probably my last match here,” Nadal said. “I really enjoyed playing here. It was unimaginable to win it 12 times.”

Nadal is returning from yet another injury layoff and hadn’t played since an exhibition match against Carlos Alcaraz in March. Before this week, he had played only three competitive matches this year — all in Brisbane in January — before skipping the Australian Open.

Nadal also withdrew from Monte Carlo, saying he his body wasn’t ready.

The 37-year old Nadal had hip surgery last summer and said 2024 will probably be his last year playing on tour.

BAUTISTA AGUT’S 400TH

Roberto Bautista Agut rallied to defeat Andrea Vavassori 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 to earn his 400th tour-level victory.

The 35-year-old Spaniard is the 13th active player with at least 400 ATP Tour wins.

“To me it’s just a number,” Bautista Agut said. “The important thing is that I’ve done great work over these years, that I’ve had a very consistent career, a career that I can feel proud of.”

OTHER RESULTS

Third-seeded Casper Ruud advanced with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Alexandre Muller, while sixth-seeded Ugo Humbert lost 6-4, 6-4 to Dusan Lajovic.

Ninth-seeded Nicolas Jarry lost 7-6 (5), 6-3 to qualifier Marco Trungelliti, and 14th-seeded Jordan Thompson got past Jaume Munar 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.